Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Macchu Pichu - A Victim of its own Success

Earlier this month, The World Heritage Committee requested that “reinforced monitoring” should be applied to certain properties on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, voicing grave concern over governance of Macchu Pichu, highlighting urgent problems of deforestation, landslide risk, uncontrolled urban development and illegal access to the sanctuary. UNESCO demonstrated serious concerns over the future protection of the site and have considered putting Machu Picchu on its list of World Heritage Sites in Danger, entitling it to special attention and international assistance.

Machu Picchu is perched 8000ft above sea level in Peru’s South Western Andes. Before its discovery in 1911, this ancient Inca citdel had previously escaped destruction by Spanish Conquistadores but since its rise to international fame over the past 50 years, a new wave of invaders has threatened its longevity; like so many marvels of the world, Machu Picchu is in danger of being loved to death by tourists.

The unprecedented amount of tourism it receives is largely due to its international status as a ‘must see’ attraction. It was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981, spurring waves of visitors to travel to Peru to see the ancient ruin, but the tidal wave came in 1983, when the 500 year old site gained UNESCO World Heritage status and the tourists began arriving in swarms. Then in 2007, Machu Picchu was named as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ and, with this globally nominated status, the number of visitors doubled to 5000 per day, levels which spurred fears that the ruins could be destroyed by irresponsible tourist to a point of no-return.

As always, there is an economic verses conservation battle here. Around 858,211 tourists visited Machu Picchu in 2008 and Peru’s National Chamber of Tourism estimates that tourism brings in around $500,000 per day. UNESCO frequently fight battles to halt further developments, some of which have been successful; admission prices have been increased, an application for cable car access was turned down and in 2006, a proposal to allow flights was denied, following the protests of leading environmentalists, who said that they would cause irreparable damage to the ruins and rare wildlife. However, there are many recommendations that have been ignored: UNESCO suggest that visitor numbers should be cut to 800 per day, and that soft shoes should be warn to reduce the impact of scrambling over the ruins. A major concern is further uncontrolled development and unrestricted access to the site and in 1999 UNESCO suggested that tourist infrastructure was reduced, another recommendation that has so far been ignored.

A victim of its own success, Macchu Pichu is undoubtedly an astonishing construction and, despite the battles between environmentalists, governments, tour operators, conservationists and tourists, all parties share the common belief that the site is one of remarkable value. Sustainability is vital to all interest groups but some are more willing than others to make short term economic cuts in order to achieve longevity. The path to achieve this goal is unclear; would joining the ‘World Heritage Sites in Danger List’ be beneficial to Macchu Pichu’s preservation, or would it again spur a new wave of tourists desperate to catch the ruins before their original character is destroyed forever? Hands up if this article has made you rush to book a flight to Peru before it's too late!

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